This is a bit of a weird position to be in as a Sonic Fan who has a mixed relationship with 3D Sonic games. On the one hand, I wanted this game to be good with all my heart. On the other, I wasn’t the most optimistic person regarding the game’s quality. Imagine my surprise to find that Sonic Team has finally done, with Sonic Frontiers, something the fan-game community has been doing for years: giving Sonic a little bit of bloody breathing room.
The Low Down on Sonic Frontiers
Sonic Frontiers is the latest 3D Sonic game, developed by Team Sonic and Published by Sega for the PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox systems.
Like every 3D Sonic game during the run-up to release, it was promising to be the revolutionary 3D sonic game that fans have been waiting for, but is it? Well, at least in my opinion, kind of, yeah.
So, what makes this game different? After all, we’ve all seen what happens with Sonic in 3D in recent years. What is the key fundamental difference that makes this game work where others haven’t?
Oddly, it’s just all about space. The game still features some control and camera issues that are common problems in other 3D Sonic titles, but the space you have to move in makes up for them.
Exploring the World of Sonic Frontiers
Sonic Frontiers has an open and explorable world filled with challenges for you to approach at your own pace. The wide-open plains that make up the majority of the game world are perfect for the sort of speeds you traditionally move at in one of these games.
Normally, on those tight corridors that typified a majority of 3D sonic games, high speed can leave you bashing into walls or falling off stages, resulting in a need for forced gameplay sections.
Frontiers get by this issue handily. Your speed isn’t a problem because you’re using it to traverse a vast area. You have plenty of time to see stuff coming and adjust your trajectory or stop, and you have moves that will immediately cancel your momentum to help in that effort.
For once, you actually feel in control of Sonic, and that is the essential factor that many 3D titles have missed.
Run, Sonic, Run!
Outside of how great running around as Sonic feels, there have been some basic but munich-needed revisions to the normal formula. For instance, the homing attack is still a thing, but now Sonic actually attacks things instead of just throwing himself at them.
This means that combat has a bit of visual variety, especially when you take into account the various special moves you unlock as you level up.
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Oh yes, that’s another thing I forgot to mention. Sonic can level up now, but not in the ‘Sonic Chronicles’ kind of way. You gather experience points by exploring the world that you can use to spend on new abilities, and can increase your four main stats by collecting certain items throughout the world.
The four stats are strength, defense, speed, and rings, and they define your maximum values in those four areas.
Levelling up your skills
You can hit a maximum of 99 levels in each discipline, so you’ll be grinding a lot if you want to max out early. Not that you should need to, things are mostly well-balanced enough that you can get by on skill alone, and just let your stats increase naturally as you enjoy playing the game.
The only slight annoyance is that while attack and defence can increase in leaps, speed and rings can only be levelled up one at a time, which is a bit clunky.
The environment design in Sonic Frontiers is also worth talking about. Most of the trailers showed the same area, a grassy plain covered in weird ancient ruins and doodads. There was a justifiable amount of fear that the entire game would have a single type of environment, but fortunately, that’s not the case.
The world is basically split up into 5 different islands, each with their own environment design. The first island is all grassy plains, the second is all deserts, etc. It’s basically a redo of ‘grass world, ice world, fire world’ but it beats only having one type of place to explore.
Sonic Team Rears Its Head Again
That’s not to say that it’s all a bed of roses though. You can still tell that Sonic Frontiers is a Team Sonic game: their telltale jank is all over the place.
For instance, while the world is freely explorable, Sonic Team didn’t put quite enough attention into the fine details of plot and mission structuring, so it’s possible to completely skip vital pieces of information that you needed to know for one reason or another.
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That does’t help the disjointed feeling of the plot for that matter. Sonic plotlines are always a bit weird or just barely present, but this time its mostly bought down by its structure.
Because you can have conversations in any order, it might have been wise to force certain conversation on us, because when Sonic said “it’s one of those Titan’s trapping Amy”, it was the first time that i had come across the name in the entire game. I did later discover the dialogue i had missed, but it was a bit late by then.
Sonic of the Colossus
Speaks of titans: these are the primary ‘proper’ boss fights of the game. You have to fight one on each island to try and help save your friends who are stuck in cyberspace.
These battles usually come in two parts, with the first requiring you to scale the monster a’la Shadow of the COllosus, and the second pits you as Super Sonic, taking down the giant opponent with apparent ease.
That’s right, you get to play as Super Sonic a lot more in this game than we’ve seen in decades. Unfortunately, while the boss fight is actually pretty fun, it again suffers from that janky construction of the rest of the game.
Up until this point, I had basically no cause to use the parry move, and the game hadn’t gone out of its way to tell me. It turns out, you need to know how to use this parry move to do the fight, or at least, if you want to win in a way that feels like you’re actually having fun.
If you can get past the janky construction, these boss fights can become highlights of the games in many ways. It really makes Super Sonic feel powerful, just like he always did in a lot of the older games, from Sonic 1 to Sonic Heroes.
Even better, there’s a metal track that plays while you shoot around the arena, flying at top speed into your enemy’s giant, ugly face. It makes you feel like a bleach-blonde hedgehog god.
Sonic Frontiers – In Conclusion
That feels like all there is to say about Sonic Frontiers. Not because there isn’t more to the game, there is, but realistically, it doesn’t matter.
The game has a janky camera that can really get on your nerves and is structured like the people making it have no idea how to handle a plot very well… *cough*, but if you’re the Sonic fan who has been waiting since 2003 for a 3D game in the series that actually feels fun to play, then this is finally your time.
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Sonic Frontiers gives Sonic what he always needed, room to breathe. His speed is no longer a hazard that threatens to do him serious harm, it’s a tool that a good player can effectively use without a bunch of trial and error to do so.
Whether you’ve enjoyed a 3D Sonic game since Adventure 2 or not, this might finally be the game that saves the franchise. Let’s hope that Sonic Team gets more time to polish Frontiers 2, or whatever the inevitable sequel is called because with more characters and tighter design, there’s every chance Sega is sitting on the best Sonic title in generations.